The waiting game continues for UN inspectors in Damascus, though the pressure is mounting on Syria’s president to allow them to go and investigate an alleged chemical attack on civilians.
Both Moscow and Washington agree that inspections should be carried out as soon as possible.
President Barack Obama said that the alleged attack was a “big event of grave concern”.
However, the United States is cautious of entering a costly conflict in Syria despite Obama’s previous statement that chemical attacks would mark a “red line” in the country’s involvement in the civil war.
US Secretary of State John Kerry spent most of Thursday on the phone with his foreign counterparts.
Jennifer Psaki, a US State Department spokeswoman, said: “If the regime has nothing to do with these attacks, if there was not a use of chemical weapons here, there is no reason they wouldn’t let the United Nations team that is on the ground, available, happy to investigate, in to do just that.”
Horrifying footage of children’s corpses and others allegedly suffering from the effects of chemical weapons recorded by the opposition led to the international outcry. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague made it clear he believes it was a chemical attack and pointed the finger of blame.
“I know that some people in the world would like to say that this is some kind of conspiracy brought about by the opposition in Syria. I
think the chances of that are vanishingly small and so we do believe that this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime,” Hague said.
“Security council members expressed their support for the UN team to go there. They haven’t yet been able to and already it seems the Assad regime has something to hide – why else have they not allowed the U.N. team to go there?
“The only possible explanation of what we’ve been able to see is a chemical attack … there is no other plausible explanation for casualties so intense in such a small area on this scale.”
Adding fuel to the fire were reports in French and Israeli newspapers that US, Jordanian and Israeli commandos were leading the rebels in a push on Damascus. President Bashar al-Assad had warned he would use chemical agents if “foreign invaders” joined the opposition.
So far there is no sign that Assad will let UN inspectors go to the site of the alleged attack, limiting world powers’ options.